In 2014 Democrat Gwendolyn (Gwen) Graham unseated Florida Republican Steven Southerland for a seat in the United States House of Representatives from northwest Florida. Growing up, she saw her father, Democratic Florida Governor and United States Senator Daniel Robert (Bob) Graham, build personal relationships with voters and prioritize his work in Congress for the people of his state. Gwen Graham was determined to do the same in the House. Although redistricting limited her congressional career to one term, Graham spent her time on Capitol Hill working on behalf of constituents along the Gulf Coast. With her victory, Graham became the thirteenth woman in U.S. history to follow her father into Congress.
Gwendolyn Graham was born in Miami Lakes, Florida, on January 31, 1963.1 Her mother, Adele Khoury, began her career as a public school teacher in Massachusetts and later spent 25 years as a school volunteer.2 In 1979 her father, then a Florida state senator, won election as governor, and Gwen Graham and her three younger sisters moved to Tallahassee to live in the governor’s mansion with their parents. In 1986 Bob Graham won election to the United States Senate.3
Graham graduated from Leon High School in Tallahassee in 1980.4 She earned a BA in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1984 and married Mark Logan in 1985.5 After earning a JD from American University in Washington, DC, in 1988, Graham worked in a law firm focusing on energy and environmental issues.6 In 1990 with the birth of her first child, Sarah, Graham temporarily stopped practicing law and worked from her home in Florida. She later had two sons: Graham and Mark. Her marriage ended in divorce.7
Graham jumped into politics in 2003 when her father announced his candidacy for President after serving for 16 years in the U.S. Senate. She worked for her father’s campaign and resumed her law practice. After her father withdrew from the race in the fall, Graham became Florida’s national campaign liaison for Senator John Forbes Kerry’s presidential team. Graham initially floated the idea of running for Congress in 2006, but she did not immediately seek public office.8 Instead, she accepted an offer from the Leon County school district to work as director of employee relations. She later became the director for professional standards and chief of labor and employee relations in the county school system.9 In 2010 Graham married Steven Hurm, a Florida law enforcement officer.10
In 2013 Graham announced her candidacy for the U.S. House against Republican incumbent Steve Southerland. Southerland had won election in 2010 and entered Congress as a Member of the new Republican majority.11 Because Southerland had won re-election comfortably in 2012, and because Willard Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, carried the district that year, Democrats in the district faced long odds heading into the 2014 midterms. But Graham was confident she could successfully appeal to the politically diverse district by connecting with its constituents.12
Graham met many voters and learned the needs of the Second District through a practice she borrowed from her father called a “Graham Workday.” During these events, Graham assisted local businesses, schools, and farms with their daily tasks. She spent some of her days on the campaign trail cleaning goat stalls, sweeping barber shop floors, and riding alongside police officers.13
Graham’s critics accused her of taking advantage of her father’s reputation and doubted she could build one of her own. Graham saw this criticism as a comment on her gender. “I don’t think if my father had had a son that there would have been that hesitation to make sure that I had all the skill sets before I offered myself for office,” Graham said.14 As she had noted at the start of her campaign, “I love my dad and I’m very proud of him, but I am running this campaign as Gwen Graham.”15
Both Graham and Southerland ran unopposed in their party primaries.16 As the general election drew near, Graham raised more money than Southerland and newspapers nationwide reported neck-and-neck poll numbers. With the race tightening, the Washington Post named Southerland one of the “10 Most Endangered House Members” just a month before the election.17 On Election Day, Graham beat Southerland by 2,470 votes—less than one percentage point. She was one of two Democrats to defeat Republican incumbents that year.18
When Graham arrived in Washington, she and three other Democrats voted against Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to head the party for another Congress.19 It was a message to her district that she would vote independently in the House. On the policy side, Graham won powerful committee assignments that directly benefited her district. On the Agriculture Committee, she focused on her district’s many farms and cosponsored legislation to protect Florida’s crops from insects. With her other appointment to the Armed Services Committee, she worked to create recovery programs for injured veterans.20 While Graham voted with her party on legislation regarding women’s rights and immigrant protection, she occasionally sided with Republicans on foreign affairs and environmental policy.21
Graham continued her "Workdays" on her visits back to the district, which often corresponded with bills she introduced. After a day spent packing, serving, and delivering meals to elderly constituents, she introduced the Senior Citizen Protection Act of 2016, which proposed creating a registry of businesses and individuals that committed fraud against seniors.22 After a another “Workday” at a textile factory, Graham reintroduced a bill her Republican predecessor had first submitted called the Northwest Florida Jobs Certainty Act, which amended trade regulations on fabric.23
Heading into the 115th Congress (2017–2019), Florida redrew its congressional districts. Graham’s new seat leaned more Republican than her former constituency, and rather than seek re-election, Graham retired from the House at the end of her term.24 In May 2017, Graham announced her candidacy for governor of Florida but lost the Democratic primary.25
1“Florida-2: Gwen Graham (D),” National Journal, accessed 18 November 2014, www.nationaljournal.com/almanac/114th-congress-new-members/ (link discontinued).
2Adele Khoury Graham, “Adele Khoury Graham’s Parents Drawn to Each Other from Far-Flung Locales,” 1 May 2009, Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-stories/article1932943.html.
3Dorothy Clifford, “Invitation to a Homecoming,” 3 March 2007, Tallahassee Democrat: S10.
4“Gwendolyn (Gwen) Graham,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, https://bioguide.congress.gov.
5“New Graham Rising on Political Horizon,” 4 June 2004, St. Petersburg Times (FL): 1B.
6“Gwendolyn (Gwen) Graham,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; “Meet Gwen,” official House campaign website for Gwen Graham, https://web.archive.org/web/20141105182645/https://www.gwengraham.com/ meet-gwen/.
8“New Graham Rising on Political Horizon”; “Meet Gwen.”
10“Sheriff Wood Names Stephen Hurm LCSO General Counsel,” Leon County (FL) sheriff’s office, press release, 20 August 2016, accessed 15 May 2017, http://www.leoncountyso.com/docs/default-source/newsreleases/sheriff-wood-names-stephen-hurm-lcso-general-counsel.pdf (link discontinued).
12Travis Pillow, “Gwen Graham Brings Political Message to Wakulla,” 5 June 2014, Tallahassee Democrat: n.p.; Adam C. Smith, “Top of the Ticket Making 2014 GOP Prospects Nervous,” 26 May 2013, Tampa Bay Times: B1.
13“Meet Gwen,” official gubernatorial campaign website for Gwen Graham, accessed 31 May 2017, https://gwengraham.com/about/ (link discontinued).
14Donna Cassata, “Female Candidates Boost Dems Hopes in Tough Year,” 11 May 2014, Great Falls Tribune (MT): A1.
15Arek Sarkissian, II, “Graham’s Daughter to Run for Congress,” 2 April 2013, Tallahassee Democrat: n.p.
16“Florida Primary Results,” 270 to Win, accessed 15 May 2017, http://www.270towin.com/news/2014/08/27/florida-primary-results_16.html#.WS75Jty1u71.
17Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake, “The 10 Most Endangered House Members,” 8 September 2014, Washington Post: A2.
18Rosalind S. Helderman, “GOP Pads Numbers in House with New Group of Conservative,” 5 November 2014, Washington Post: A16; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
19Ledyard King, “Graham Says Votes Based on ‘Facts, not Politics,’ ” 20 September 2015, Tallahassee Democrat: n.p.
20“Rep. Graham Assigned Subcommittees with North Florida Ties,” official website of Representative Gwen Graham, press release, 7 September 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20160907045708/https://graham.house.gov/mediacenter/press-releases/rep-graham-assigned-subcommittees-north-florida-ties.
21King, “Graham Says Votes Based on ‘Facts, not Politics.’
22Senior Citizens Protection Act, H.R. 5694, 114th Cong. (2016); Angie Cook, “Graham Legislation Would Create Elder Abuse Registry,” 28 June 2016, Jackson County Floridan, https://www.dothaneagle.com/jcfloridan/news/ graham-legislation-would-create-elder-abuse-registry/article_bd092b8b-a9eb5380-b678-c3ca2c080566.html.
23To amend the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States to extend the tariff preference level on imports of certain cotton and man-made fiber, fabric, apparel, and made-up goods from Bahrain under the United States-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, H.R. 1696, 114th Cong. (2015); Angie Cook, “Graham Puts in ‘Workday’ at Chipley Textile Factory,” 9 April 2015, Jackson County Floridan, https://www.dothaneagle.com/jcfloridan/news/grahamputs-in-workday-at-chipley-textile-factory/article_4b2f7ae0-050b-5720-9ec1- 7eb0ae25bf54.html.
24Associated Press, “Gwen Graham, Florida Congresswoman, Leaving Office Over District Changes,” 21 April 2016, Washington Times, https:// www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/21/florida-congresswomanleaving-office-over-district/; Ledyard King, “Tough Decisions,” 17 January 2016, Tallahassee Democrat: A9.
25Laura Ruane, “Gwen Graham Announces Run for Governor,” 2 May 2017, Tallahassee Democrat, https://www.tallahassee.com/story/ news/2017/05/02/graham-announces-run-governor/101194124/; Patricia Mazzel, “Andrew Gillum Upends Expectations in Florida Primary Victory,” 28 August 2018, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/ politics/andrew-gillum-florida.html.